Everyone wants to help, wants to do something. It is very hard to find something practical to do from overseas. And even with the best intentions, some of the things that people are organizing are not very helpful. For example, many places are collecting items for people in need and want to send them over. It is not a simple thing to do–there are boxes and boxes of items sitting in the airport now with no one to take them through customs, pay the appropriate taxes on them, and then arrange for transportation and delivery. This should all be arranged in advance with all the proper paperwork and authorities notified. It is not enough that the airline has agreed to take the items!
Every nonprofit in Israel and many outside of Israel are taking advantage of the war to raise funds. It sounds absurd on the one hand that an organization which is not even affected by the war wants to raise funds, but sadly, this is the case. And many that are raising funds might not even need the funding right now, but they don’t want to miss the groundswell of desire of people wanting to help. Some of these organizations have tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in net cash reserves but instead of spending the money that is needed today, they are running fundraising campaigns. Some are collecting funds for Israel’s soldiers–it is not clear how they get around the IRS laws regarding funding of a foreign military.
Rambam opens up his entire treatise on charitable giving by saying, “We must be especially careful to observe the mitzvah of tzedaka, more so than any other positive mitzvah.” More so than honoring parents or keeping Shabbat and kashrut, etc.
Yes, most nonprofits collecting money do good work. Yes, most nonprofits collecting money are honest, trustworthy and legitimate. However, those are not sufficient criteria for deciding where to give. As the Rambam suggests, you must be even more careful to ensure that as much of your donation actually goes to what you think it is going for.
For example, I highly recommend the IRS-recognized foundation Hands on Tzedakah (HOT), where 100% of your donation goes to exactly where you want. (www.handsontzedakah.org). There are no overhead costs, and, more than that, every grant is given to Israeli organizations in shekels so there are no bank fees or foreign currency fees. The money is transferred immediately as the needs arise.
Here are just some examples of what the donations given to HOT have accomplished in the first 72 hours of the war:
1000 camping mattresses for people in shelters
400 electric chargers
Hot food for three days for shelters where people in need are
50 sets of protective vests and helmets for civilian emergency forces volunteers
Snacks and light food for 15 shelters in the poorest parts of Ashkelon, and dozens of shelters in Sderot
Emergency lighting devices
Toys and games for children of families displaced by the war
Toiletries for people in need
Am Yisrael Chai – The People of Israel Live!